Ag Talk


Jack Payne

It was the kind of make-or-break help that University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences experts have offered for decades to people whose livelihood depends on raising living things. That is, the same people the Farm Bureau serves.

So I’m gratified, but not surprised, that this year’s Farm Bureau Policy Book makes an unusually specific call to support continued state funding for the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin.

The Farm Bureau and UF/IFAS want more Roy Yanongs out there putting veterinary expertise in the service of Florida’s tropical aquarium fish industry, by far the nation’s largest.

The laboratory is essentially the R&D branch of the industry. Roy is the industry’s go-to veterinarian.

Craig Watson, director of the laboratory, is a technical adviser to the Farm Bureau’s Aquaculture Advisory Committee. Craig is such a respected figure among producers that last year they inducted him into the Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association Hall of Fame.

The Florida State Fair board recognized the value of aquaculture by selecting it as the featured commodity at this year’s fair. That meant coveted space in the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame building to teach fair visitors about the business and the science of fish farming.

The industry again looked to Craig to put its best fin forward to the public. Craig’s knack for singing the successes of Florida aquaculture – and a wife who’s a professional museum exhibit designer – combined to produce an informative, dynamic and colorful walk-through storybook of a display.

Craig tells the laboratory’s story in an annual return-on-investment statement to Hillsborough County, which considers its financial support for the laboratory as an investment in the local sales, jobs, and businesses. A recent statement documented a 16.5-to-1 payoff for all public funding the laboratory receives.

Any time I see an ROI that high, I want to invest more. That’s why one of my priorities for the coming legislative session is to champion new funding for the Laboratory.

More early detection. More research on the species people love to display in their tanks. More success stories like the one I call “Farming Dory,” in which laboratory-affiliated scientists figured out how to raise the blue tang in captivity so that a movie-driven surge in demand would not have to be met entirely with wild-caught fish.

It’s the state’s only dedicated tropical fish disease diagnostic lab, assisting producers, wholesalers, state agencies, and research facilities.

No industry stays on top for long without R&D to propel it with new products and services. It helps when that R&D crew makes house calls.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.